Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pepper

Last Monday, we had to say good-bye to our sweet Pepper. Our hearts are broken. We were amazingly fortunate to have her in our family. She was a cuddler and a kisser, a nurse when the kids were sick, a best friend, and a goofball. She stopped to smell the flowers and noticed airplanes in the sky. She loved cookies, car rides, sunshine, and ear rubs. Most of all, she loved the kids, her brother Thistle, Jim, and me. Pepper made our world brighter. She was a beautiful life. We love her and miss her.


Pepper
November 22, 2004 - March 20, 2017
(photo by Jordan Taylor)

February 2005

Pepper with her boy - February 2005

Pepper with her girl - February 2005

Pepper loved being a pillow for the kids. She would sometimes go into our son's room when he was asleep and nudge his pillow out of the way so she could take its place. The other dog in the photo is our beloved Jack, Pepper and Thistle's uncle.

Thistle (left) and Pepper (right) on their tenth birthday

Pepper and Thistle - May 2016

September 2016

Pepper and Thistle
(photo by Jordan Taylor)

Pepper and I in a sunbeam

Friday, February 10, 2017

EMMANUEL'S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH

I'm crazy about EMMANUEL'S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH, a picture book written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls.

Schwartz & Wade/Random House, 2015


Here's the flap copy:
One person can change the world.

In Ghana, West Africa, a baby was born:
Two bright eyes blinked in the light,
two tiny fists opened and closed,
but only one strong leg kicked.

Here is the inspiring true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who cycled an incredible four hundred miles across Ghana--with only one strong leg--to spread his powerful message: disability does not mean inability.


Yes! What an important message! Also, what an incredible book!

As anyone who's tried to write a picture book can attest, picture books, which seem so simple, are difficult to write. To be able to tell a complete story using so few words is a huge accomplishment. Add to that the required research for a well-told biography and the ability to boil it all down to a meaningful story, using language that's accessible to young readers--wow! Yet Laurie manages it skillfully. Every word feels right. Laurie pulls readers in, describing when baby Emmanuel was born. And that's just the first page! EMMANUEL'S DREAM is gorgeous, and the story is inspiring without feeling didactic.The whole book is packed with heart because of the true story of Emmanuel, Laurie's excellent words, and Sean Qualls's art. The illustrations are strikingly beautiful with light backgrounds and bold colors, and they convey so much emotion. There's story in the illustrations, and I love the illustrator's images, colors, and flavor.

EMMANUEL'S DREAM was the winner of the ALA Youth Media Awards Schneider Family Children's Book Award in 2016, and it was a Junior Library Guild selection. This page on Laurie's website shows an impressive list of the book's awards, honors, and reviews.

Laurie is the Nonfiction Coordinator and CoPAL (Published and Listed) Liaison for SCBWI Western Washington. I've known her for years through SCBWI, and she's super nice. Check out her website here.

I've just discovered Sean Qualls, and I love his artwork! These are links to his blog and website. Here is a link to a great interview with him from 2008. He talks about his background and his process.


Yesterday, bookseller Victoria Irwin and I were admiring my copy of EMMANUEL'S DREAM at Eagle Harbor Book Company, and we posed for a picture.



* * *

How about you? Do you write fiction, nonfiction, or both? What's your favorite nonfiction book for children or teens?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Latest Enterprises

I've been terrible about blogging, but I have an excellent excuse: my husband and I have embarked on a five-year mission.



Here's some footage from our first away mission.

video


We've had our rough moments, like when Jim almost assimilated with the Borg



and when I located Data--or part of him.



Overall, though, it's been a blast! (Get it? As in phaser blast? Oh, man. Sooo not funny when you have to explain it.)

Okay, okay. I'm only messing with you, obviously. That was all from a party at MoPop, the Museum of Pop Culture, in Seattle. (Go if you get the chance! We had a ton of fun looking at the exhibits!)

The real reason I haven't been blogging lately is I've been spending all of my writing efforts on my novel. I printed the whole thing in early December, before starting the current draft.

It's not yet as pretty as it needs to be. Some of the chapters have been revised three to five times, some closer to eight, and some have probably been revised twenty-five times. I can't tell you what draft this is because I don't actually know. I can, however, tell you I'm very proud of it. And that, unlike my lame phaser joke, is something I'm confident you'll all "get." I know this because you're writers, too.

I hope you all enjoy the holidays and have a joy-filled, healthy 2017! Happy creating, everyone!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When Good Dogs Do Bad Things


It's true. What's a writer to do?

A few years ago, Thistle destroyed our son's required reading. I guess you could say Thistle really sank his teeth into The Scarlet Letter and pretty much devoured The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Yep, our dog ate our son's homework.

Thistle, Thistle, Thistle.

To Thistle's credit he has good taste. He thoroughly enjoyed classic literature, after all.


Shall we say he's well-read because of this, or well-fed?

Here's the deal: Thistle loves paper. He loves to walk on it, lie on it--things we're filing, manuscript pages, whatever. Unfortunately, he also loves shredding it. That said, he, until recently, hadn't destroyed any books in years. Magazines, yes, but no books.

Well, there was that one boring-looking business book my husband was reading. Thistle ripped the cover, but nothing else. Apparently, you can sometimes judge a book by its cover.


Moving on! Here's where my story gets sad. Feel free to get a tissue and come back. I'll wait for you.

Comfy? Okay, good.

Looking forward to the release of Cheryl Klein's The Magic Words, I pre-ordered it. When I got the call in early September that the book had arrived at the bookstore, I zipped right over to get it. I even took a picture of the book when I got home, in case I wanted to write a post about it. (Little did I know what the subject of said post would be.)

 Note: if this photo were a scratch-n-sniff sticker, it would smell like happy anticipation.

My husband and I went out to dinner the night I bought the book, the night of the crime. As I left the house, I was looking forward to a bit of pre-bedtime reading. The book sat on the kitchen counter, probably a foot from where my son's stack of classics had been.

Insert dramatic music here!

You know what happened next. No tape, no glue, no magic words could put my beautiful new book, The Magic Words, back together.

Told you to get a tissue. So. Sad.

Looking back, I can't blame only Thistle. Years ago, I, trying to be helpful, moved my son's books to that counter. I'm also the one who left The Magic Words in the same spot, unprotected, knowing Thistle's history. (I could note that he has also shoplifted cookies from a local pet food store--multiple times--and even taken dog cookies from a woman's purse, all while on-leash! That should be inadmissible, though, because everything he stole was at nose level, we're terrible dog trainers, and--most importantly--he, like me, has a weakness for cookies.)

Fortunately, I was able to order a new copy of the book right away.


See? Looks just like the first one!

Okay, I'm lying. It's the same picture because I'm too lazy to take another one, but trust me: the new book looks just like the old one.

Thistle, a proven book murderer, will never be trusted with books again.


Pepper (above) says, "When my brother eats books, I become Mommy's favorite."
(Though I promise: I don't have a favorite!)


So! While there's no question about Thistle's book crimes...

He curls up near my chair when I write. He's here now. My sweet Pepper does it, too, but not as often. I guess you could say she's not as hungry for the written word. Right now, she's downstairs watching TV.

Thistle's my wingman


and occasionally my critic.


He's a cookie thief and a book eater, but I forgive him.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A SENSE OF THE INFINITE by Hilary T. Smith

I just read A Sense of the Infinite, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Published May 19, 2015
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

A Sense of the Infinite is Hilary T. Smith's second YA novel. I was a fan of the author before even picking up the book because she was INTERN. Do you remember INTERN? I've been blogging since 2009, which makes me practically ancient in blog years. "Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!" For those of you who don't remember, Hilary T. Smith blogged anonymously as INTERN while working as an intern in the publishing industry. Her insightful blog was helpful to writers, fun to read, and it had a ton of voice. When I heard Hilary was going to be doing a signing nearby, I became geeky-excited (hard to imagine, I'm sure). Then I met her and she was incredibly nice and normal, and she asked about my writing and I babbled way too much, and that meeting is why I feel it's okay if I refer to her as "Hilary" instead of "Ms. Smith" or "the author" for this post. So there.

There are so many things I love about this book, including Hilary's gorgeous writing voice. I read it was a "quiet" book before I picked it up, but that doesn't feel quite right to me because so much happens in the story. True, it's not vampires, post-apocalyptic, the story of one teen saving all of humanity, or something involving aliens. And while I love stories that fall into all of those categories--I myself usually include fantasy or magic in my own--I also enjoy realistic fiction, quiet or not. I love A Sense of the Infinite for the story, the "what happens," the secrets, the characters, and how the characters develop.

I detest spoilers, so I'll stick to the flap copy for the summary:

It's senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready--ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn't prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe's new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she's been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it harder to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn't prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don't involve Annabeth. Without Noe's constant companionship, Annabeth's world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she's really meant to be--with her best friend or without.


I found A Sense of the Infinite unputdownable. Annabeth is a compelling character. She's fully relatable and empathetic, and she's interesting in her life, her strengths, her weaknesses, and her decisions. Hilary's language is beautiful, and I love her use of similes and metaphors--and the lovely words and similes feel natural coming from Annabeth, a senior in high school. Annabeth's voice sounds modern and intelligent, but also authentic and grounded in real teen-speak. It's challenging, writing with a poetic voice that doesn't sound too old, too lofty, or out of character, but Hilary nails it. All of the characters feel complete, imperfect in a wonderful way, and real.

Again, I shy away from writing too many story deets that might spoil a book, so without going into detail I'll tell you there's a subtlety in the writing that allows the reader to infer, and it helps make the book feel true and real. Also, anyone who writes for children or teens knows it can be challenging to have adults in the book while not having them solve the problems for the protagonist, look neglectful, or seem like cardboard cutouts. Hilary expertly handles the adult issue. Annabeth's mother is a great and important character who remains empathetic through the ups and downs in her relationship with her daughter. I think all of the adult characters feel real or at least realistic in how they're being viewed by a teen. The characters can't be pigeonholed because they're three-dimensional, and the decisions they make feel organic. This book is a superb example of so many things we strive for in writing, and one is to make our characters active in their choices, active in their lives.

I've lately been zooming in extra close on what (and how much) to show and tell as I revise my own work-in-progress, so I can't help but pay attention to those things in the books I'm reading and shows I'm watching. We can't help notice that, right? Once you're a writer, you read and take in the story differently, for better or worse. I remember reading some quote by an author (Who? Can't remember!) saying that deciding what to show and tell is one of the biggest parts of crafting a novel, and I think I agree. As I read A Sense of the Infinite, I had to ask myself a few times if I'd have chosen differently in some of the scenes. I think I would have shown different parts of a few big scenes in my first draft (if I could have written this book, which I couldn't have), and I hope I would have eventually had the wisdom to revise it as Hilary did. See, I think she chose just right. That's part of what made me so hungry to keep turning pages. The book is beautifully crafted, and I highly recommend reading it.

Now it's sharing time! Here's my INTERN-autographed book! Personalized! To me!



The title of Hilary's first book is Wild Awake. I totally want to read it!

Published May 28, 2013
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


How about you? Have you read A Sense of the Infinite? Did you follow INTERN? Have any authors made you geeky-excited? Have you read anything great lately? Tell me, tell me, tell me!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Refinishing

Jim and I like to pick up old pieces of furniture, 
listening for whispers of what each one was or could be. 
We search beyond the scratches, the tired limbs, the cobwebs.




Strong wood—a solid form—lies underneath a rough surface. 
We sand it, add new legs,


and then wipe away the dust to see what we have.



It gets messy before it gets pretty.

We stain or paint, finish and buff, 
giving each piece new life.

Refinished at last.



It’s like revision, 
once we have all the bones of a story in place, 
once we have strong wood and a solid form. 
We must sand down our works-in-progress and make broken legs sturdy 
before we can add the polish.

I’m revising now. I’m eager to see what I’ll have when this very special piece is refinished.


How about you? Where are you in the process? 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Happy book birthday to SAM AND JUMP by Jennifer K. Mann!

Jennifer Mann has a brand-new picture book, SAM AND JUMP!

Candlewick Press
Pub date: May 10, 2016

SAM AND JUMP is an adorable book that tenderly captures the very big emotions that go along with having (and losing!) a beloved stuffy and making a new friend. Don't you love the cover?

Here's what Kirkus Reviews had to say about SAM AND JUMP:
When a small boy forgets his precious stuffed rabbit at the beach, he fears the worst.

"Best friends" who "do everything together," Sam, a white boy, and his stuffed rabbit, Jump, go to the beach, where they meet a black boy named Thomas. They play together all day. When he gets home, Sam realizes he's left Jump at the beach. His mother promises they will return to the beach in the morning, but Sam can't eat dinner or enjoy his bedtime story and spends the night imagining terrible things happening to Jump. In the morning, Sam can't find Jump anywhere at the beach and "nothing was fun" without him. Then Thomas returns carrying the missing Jump, and all's well. Sweet, endearingly simple illustrations created with pencil, watercolor, and "digital magic" judiciously use white space to focus attention on inseparable Sam and Jump sharing tea, soaping up in the tub, and sitting side-by-side on a tree branch and in an overstuffed chair. Following Jump's abandonment, murky, blue-gray backgrounds emphasize Sam's sadness, isolation, and fear, while Sam's solitary figure on the beach echoes his loneliness and loss, reprieved later in the silent hug of his reunion with Jump.

Kids with their own favorite toys will identify with this gentle, tender tale of Sam and Jump's special bond.


Jen had a launch party at Secret Garden Books in Ballard, Washington, on May 10, the day SAM AND JUMP hit bookshelves. Sand dollar cookies, cupcakes, and beachballs made things extra festive while guests celebrated the big day with Jen.

This is a pic of a few SCBWI-ers at the event: (left to right) Jennifer Longo, Jennifer Mann, Dana Arnim, and me.



Today was another launch party, this one at Eagle Harbor Book Company in Bainbridge Island, Washington.


Another launch party means more fun book talk, treats, and guests!

left to right: Faith Pray, Jennifer Mann, Margaret Nevinski, and me

Something that makes that last photo extra special to me is it holds all of my critique partners and me in one shot! I'm in one critique group with Jen and Margaret Nevinski, and Faith Pray and I have our own two-person critique group. When a critique partner has a book come out, something you witnessed in its first stages of life--early words and, if a picture book, early sketches--it's so huge and exciting! Hurray!

Happy birthday, SAM AND JUMP! Jennifer, congratulations on your new and beautiful book!

Now it's your turn! Are there any new books you're excited about? Tell me, tell me, tell me!